How to work around $20/day hotel Internet in Central London
December 24, 2012 12:33 PM   Subscribe

My friend is headed to London for eight nights and the hotel he is staying at has Internet for $20 a day. Is there a way around that? Is there a cheap "Mi-Fi" type 3g/wifi device available without a plan, or other tricks to leverage prepaid 3g for his and his wife's laptops? Just a 3g sim isn't enough as they will really need laptop wifi access.
posted by carlodio to Travel & Transportation around London, England (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
We just got back from a trip to the U.K., including four nights spent in London. We didn't have much trouble finding wifi. Most of the hotels we stayed at had free wifi in the lobby area, and failing that there was always something like a Starbucks nearby. I also found a wifi service called _TheCloud that required a free signup, but once you did that you could connect in quite a few locations around town.
posted by Lokheed at 12:40 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the absence of an alternative to the Hotel's wifi, I would negotiate with the front desk upon arrival. Your friend is staying EIGHT nights. That is a long stay in a hotel and one that deserves some accommodation for a policy designed for one or two day stays. I would offer them $60 or 3 nights pay for all 8 days.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can buy a wireless dongle prepaid for a month for £15 - £20 from a UK mobile carrier high street store. I've used O2 for this before. You will need a credit card to set up an account that can be topped up, but you won't need to take out a contract and can just use it for the month prepaid data allowance and use / pay nothing more. I've done this before for work and it is definitely viable.
posted by bifter at 1:00 PM on December 24, 2012

Best answer: If they can get their hands on a GiffGaff SIM & register it then they'll be able to get internet via their phone with one of GiffGaff's data plans: £12.50 will get them 3Gb which should be more than adequate. Chuck a bit extra on to cover any phone calls & call it done.

(The £10 "gooodbag" will get them 250 minutes & 1Gb of tetherable data.)

You *might* be able to get a GiffGaff SIM sent to the hotel from their website & pick it up when you get there: can't hurt to try. GiffGaff is an O2 network reseller.

Alternatively, any of the pre-paid 3G data SIMs (from "3" or T-mobile for instance) will let you tether IIRC, but I don't know if you can make calls. You can order them through Amazon.
posted by pharm at 1:11 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

If they have an android 3G phone, they can buy a PAYG sim with a data plan from Carphone Warehouse in London and run a tethering app (or enable tethering in the phone settings). Voila - MIFI on the cheap.
posted by zippy at 1:42 PM on December 24, 2012

I second JohnnyGunn's suggestion of negotiating in advance with the hotel. You could point out that the total fee they plan to charge for internet access will be about £100 which is enough to purchase internet access for 3 months plus a router with most UK ISPs. London is awash with hotels which offer free wifi; ironically they are often cheaper establishments where the clientelle will be footing their own bill rather than charging it to a corporate expense account. If I was assured that the service was of good quality then I would offer $5 per day for it. I would make my decision on whether to stay contingent on getting acceptance. Since the hotel will not make any loss under this deal I would expect them to say 'yes'.

If you do go down the route of getting a SIM or wireless dongle then be very careful about what you are signing up for. You may only have a "pay as you go" settlement but this is often dependent on setting up a direct debit with a UK-based bank. You want to be absolutely sure that you can stop the service without problems after the visit.
posted by rongorongo at 2:35 PM on December 24, 2012

Even if you pay for the (exhorbitant) wifi provided by the hotel, it's a risk. Hotel wifi in the UK is an extremely variable thing, in terms of speed, reliability, and online services you can access and use. If you decide you have to use the hotel wifi, just buy the minimum at first e.g. one days or hours worth, and see if it is acceptable for your needs.

There are lots of places, cafes, bars, libraries, restaurants, that offer free wifi in London. Again, the general rule is "Try before you buy (anything at that place)", as some advertise wifi that either doesn't work, or is compromised in some way.
posted by Wordshore at 2:38 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The GiffGaff sim idea should sort you out.
There is definitely no kind of contract involved, not even a direct debit.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:37 AM on December 25, 2012

Even when they charge for wifi, hotels (at least in the States) generally have a free Ethernet connection in the room. You could buy a cheap wireless router and plug that in to the Ethernet's what I do.
posted by DandyRandy at 4:43 PM on December 27, 2012

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